No one would ever accuse Stevenson of ducking a challenge. That’s why senior goalkeeper Ian Bolland and junior attackman Tyler Reid were eager to take part in Saturday’s Capital Athletic Conference Tournament final pitting the second-seeded Mustangs against top-seeded Salisbury.
“I’ve played them almost three times every year, and each time is an exciting time,” Bolland said after Stevenson outlasted third-seeded St. Mary’s, 10-8, in Wednesday night’s semifinal at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills. “Everybody comes ready to play, and it’s going to be a good game.”
Saturday’s game is a rematch of the April 14 regular-season meeting in which the Sea Gulls (18-0) used an 8-1 run to overcome a six-goal deficit in the third quarter and emerge with an 11-10 decision.
Salisbury, the nine-time reigning national champion, has won three of the last four contests in this series, but Reid said he and his teammates are looking forward to changing that trend.
“We know that every time we play against them, it’s just an absolute bloodbath,” Reid said. “It’s a war zone out there from the first whistle to the end of the game. They’re a tough team, and they proved that two weeks ago. They came out and really stuck it to us in that second half. We can’t let up. That’s our biggest problem. When we have an opportunity to bury teams, we’ve got to stick it to them, and I think the guys are excited to play them.”
*Stevenson (14-3) scored five goals each in the first and second halves, but the offense struggled with the Seahawks’ zone defense in the second half. St. Mary’s decision to pack the middle of the box allowed the Mustangs to score just one goal over a span of 13 minutes, 26 seconds. “We were expecting a zone from them, and we’ve seen a lot of zone this year,” said Reid, who scored three goals including the eventual game-winner with 7:41 left in the fourth quarter. “We kind of got into a little trend there where we were taking the first shot. What we should’ve been doing is taking the better shot and looking for our opportunities and moving the ball quicker. We kind of froze up a bit, but towards the end, I thought we started moving the ball a little better.”
*Stevenson won just 6-of-20 faceoffs, and that percentage should be a concern against a Sea Gulls team that is winning 67.2 percent (323-of-481) of its draws this season. The team’s faceoff unit has a few days to address its issues, which is what Mustangs coach Paul Cantabene is expecting. “I think we were a little too mental there,” he said. “I think our kids have to understand how to win faceoffs. We’ve been working with them. We’ll adjust and I think we’ll be better against Salisbury, and I think we’ll get a better effort out of these guys, but they’ve got to understand that each faceoff is a little different and not get too flustered.”
*Another factor in Stevenson’s lack of scoring punch in the second half was the defensive players’ decisions while clearing the ball. Cantabene said the players got a bit too aggressive. “I thought where we really struggled was clearing,” he said. “I thought our defensive guys were getting out of there and trying to go to the goal instead of just giving us an opportunity. And I think that led to some breaks for St. Mary’s and gave them some life.”
*The Seahawks’ 6-1 run spanning the third and fourth quarters got a boost from the play of junior midfielder Stew D’Ambrogi, who compiled all five of his points (two goals and three assists) during that spurt. But D’Ambrogi said the St. Mary’s offense took advantage of Stevenson’s confidence in its short-stick defensive midfielders. “They put short sticks behind the goal, which allowed us to dodge from behind,” he said. “We have a lot of kids who can beat short sticks from behind, which allowed for a lot of openings on the crease. They would slide, and people would get open on the crease.”
*Wednesday night’s contest was the final one between Stevenson and St. Mary’s as league foes. The Mustangs will begin life in the Middle Atlantic Conference next season, while the Seahawks (10-6) will remain in the Capital Athletic Conference. But St. Mary’s coach Chris Hasbrouck said he hopes to continue the series. “We’re going to try to get them on the schedule,” he said. “We want to play the best competition. We have a great schedule, and we’re starting to compete with and beat those ranked teams. Stevenson is a heck of a team, and if Paul’s got an opening in the schedule, we certainly would continue to play them.”